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(LEAD) U.S. reiterates readiness for N. Korean missile launch

All News 10:15 January 20, 2017

(ATTN: EXPANDS dateline; ADDS Seoul officials' comments in paras 7-8)
By Chang Jae-soon

WASHINGTON/SEOUL, Jan. 19 (Yonhap) -- The United States is prepared for any North Korean missile launch, including the possibility of shooting it down if it were coming toward the U.S. or allies, the Pentagon said Thursday.

Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook made the remark after the U.S. and South Korea picked up signs that the North has readied two new ballistic missiles with an intercontinental range for possible test-firing from mobile launchers.

The move suggests the North could carry out a threatened ICBM test earlier than expected.

"We've been prepared for this for some time. That's what we do every day in terms of the North Korea threat. You've heard the secretary talk about this recently, describing the significant steps that we've taken along with our allies in the region to be prepared for provocative acts by the North Koreans. And we continue to be prepared," Cook said at a regular briefing.

"As we go through this transition, the Department of Defense remains prepared to address the threats that are posed by North Korea. And we will continue to be so. We have 28,500 troops on the Korean peninsula as we speak. They are ready to fight tonight. We have other capabilities in the region, again designed to protect the United States and our allies," he said.

(LEAD) U.S. reiterates readiness for N. Korean missile launch - 1

Cook declined to discuss details of the North's missile activity, citing intelligence matters. He, however, reiterated that the U.S. is ready to deal with the threat. He also urged the North to refrain from undertaking destabilizing acts.

The North may launch an ICBM from a mobile launcher at the Panghyon airfield in the northwestern part of the country. The failed Musudan intermediate-range ballistic missile was also launched from the same site last year, military officials in Seoul said.

The missile is believed to be equipped with the new engine that the North tested last April. The possible test-firing could provide valuable clues on what progress has been made by Pyongyang to launch a long-range missile and direct a warhead to its target, they said.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said in his New Year's Day address that the country has entered the final stage of preparation to test-fire an ICBM, a thinly veiled threat that Pyongyang is close to developing a nuclear-tipped missile capable of striking the continental U.S.

In response, incoming U.S. President Donald Trump has vowed to stop the North from mastering ICBM capabilities, saying Pyongyang's development of a missile capable of striking the U.S. "won't happen."

U.S. officials said the country is fully capable of defending itself and allies against North Korean missiles, with Defense Secretary Ash Carter saying the U.S. would shoot down a missile if it were coming toward the U.S. or allies.

Cook said the missile interception policy remains unchanged.

"That is the position of the U.S. government and this Department of Defense and certainly this secretary of defense," he said.


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